Zuma risks removal over handling of Marikana mine killings

Political rivals and press blame South African president for 'string of errors' over police shooting of striking mine workers

The deaths of 44 in a labour dispute this month at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, including 34 armed miners shot by police, could undermine Zuma’s populist appeal and threaten his chances in a December vote where he seeks re-election as the leader of the party that dominates politics. 

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Zuma’s critics say the day last week he spoke to miners for a few minutes under the blazing sun showed him more beholden to special interest groups than to millions of South Africans waiting for him to ease poverty. 

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He took more time to speak to Lonmin’s executives than miners and then left the mine to dance in front of cameras at a ruling African National Congress event, despite declaring a week of mourning. 

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“Our government is becoming a pig that is eating its own children,” Julius Malema, the ANC Youth League expelled from the ruling party after crossing swords with Zuma, said at a memorial service on Thursday for the victims.

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“Our government is failing to intervene in mines because our leaders are involved in mines,” Malema said. 

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It is too early to tell how much damage Zuma will suffer from the killings at the Marikana mine, northwest of Johannesburg, but the president’s foes have been using the event to store ammunition before December’s vote. 

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“The fact that Zuma ordered police to bring the Lonmin strike under control has exposed him to accusations of complicity in the miners’ deaths,” Mark Rosenberg wrote in a note for the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

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BUMPY ROAD  

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Banished from the ANC, Malema is in a position to say things ANC leaders cannot in public because the party prefers to confine debate to behind closed doors. It also makes Malema influential to those who want to unseat Zuma. 

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The incident, dubbed by local media the “Marikana Massacre” has hit the base of support that brought Zuma to power, widening a divide between him and his former backers in the Youth League. 

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The staunch support Zuma once had from the powerful COSATU labour federation has also been called into question with its flagship group, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), finding itself isolated by miners who say it has lost its focus on workers by cozying up to the ANC and mining giants. 

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Prior to the killings, Zuma seemed headed to a victory at the ANC election, which would put him in a position to remain as South Africa’s president until 2019. 

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While he is still in the driver’s seat, the road has become a lot bumpier. 

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“Before Lonmin, with NUM in his corner, the race was going to be easy but it’s going to be difficult to get a clear consensus from COSATU when there are big people who are anti-Zuma,” said a senior union official campaigning for Zuma’s re-election who did not want to be named. 

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Nominations for the race open in October and the ANC forbids potential candidates from lobbying ahead of time. 

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Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is the most viable choice. Insiders say the man who served as caretaker president for eight months from September 2008 when the ANC recalled former President Thabo Mbeki to make way for Zuma, will only raise his hand if he knows he can win. 

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Before Marikana, Zuma’s supporters are believed to have courted Cyril Ramaphosa, the former leader of NUM who is now an ANC heavyweight and one of the country’s richest businessmen – offering him the position of deputy president.  

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The former labour leader and anti-apartheid activist Ramaphosa now sits on Lonmin’s board as a non-executive director and has been called a sellout by Zuma’s critics, such as former youth leader Malema.

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“It’s a different ball game now and Cyril is tainted,” the Zuma campaign official said. 

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CRACKS IN SOCIETY

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The incident has also laid bare cracks in society with an electorate complaining of growing levels of income inequality and the government’s slow pace in addressing apartheid-era infrastructure backlogs in housing, education and healthcare. 

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Unemployment has inched up under Zuma while the country has slipped in Transparency International’s rankings of perceived corruption. Several Zuma allies are being probed on suspicion of using political connections to line their pockets.

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COSATU Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi, a potential kingmaker and critic of what he calls a “predatory elite” among the political class, may be looking to garner support from unions in the federation to oppose Zuma’s re-election, a senior union official said. 

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“Something like this (Marikana) is what Vavi and his followers were waiting for. It shows exactly what they were saying,” the official said.

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COSATU, with 2 million members and in a governing alliance with the ANC, has been a powerful vote gathering machine for the ruling party.

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“Those who want to unseat Zuma could not ask for anything better,” said a member of the ANC’s national executive committee.

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Political rivals and press blame South African president for ‘string of errors’ over police shooting of striking mine workers

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Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, could be ousted later this year after what has been described as “a string of unbelievable errors” in his handling of the mine massacre that shocked viewers around the world.

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Zuma is facing criticism for a sluggish response to one of post-apartheidSouth Africa’s biggest disasters, in which 34 striking mineworkers were gunned down by police. With factionalism rampant in the governing party, some believe the episode could tip the balance against him when he seeks re-election at an African National Congress (ANC) conference in December.

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Critics say that in the hours after the bloodshed at the Marikana platinum mine in the north-west of the country, Zuma was slow to return to South Africa from a summit in neighbouring Mozambique. By the time he did reach the mine, it was “too dark” to address the angry mineworkers, he was quoted as saying last week.

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Instead the president visited survivors in hospital and read a prepared speech to journalists at a game lodge owned by Lonmin, the company that owns the mine, announcing a commission of inquiry. Many of those present described the address as flat.

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Rubbing salt into Zuma’s wounds, his arch political enemy, Julius Malema, addressed the miners the following day, earning cheers as he accused Zuma of presiding over mass murder and called for him to resign. Zuma did speak to the mineworkers last week, but he failed to attend a memorial service, where the limelight was again stolen by Malema, the expelled president of the ANC youth league.

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The South African press has accused Zuma of misjudgment in his handling of the shootings. An editorial in the Times said: “Being a leader comes with a responsibility and in this case the president, or his advisers, failed to read the mood. Sometimes a leader needs to suspend protocol and take charge of a situation in his country. Zuma’s absence from the ‘crime scene’ gave others space.”

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If history has shown that a major national crisis can make or break a presidency, the omens for Zuma are grim. Susan Booysen, a political scientist at Wits University in Johannesburg, said: “A wise government takes pre-emptive steps and there had been danger signals for several weeks. Zuma didn’t make a good impression by going to a private lodge. He only went to the miners’ territory after Julius Malema had been there, so he came in on a weak wicket.

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“It was a string of unbelievable errors that came together. I think that, on balance, he came across as weak. There is not much in Zuma’s favour except the swift announcement of a commission of inquiry.”

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Booysen, author of The African National Congress and the Regeneration of Political Power, added: “Does it really matter? I think it does. If [deputy president] Kgalema Motlanthe becomes a candidate, this will be important. Opponents of Zuma will pull everything out of the closet to throw at him, just like they did against President Thabo Mbeki.”

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Motlanthe, who served as interim president between Mbeki and Zuma, has not yet revealed his ambitions for the ANC elective conference in Mangaung. But in June he openly questioned Zuma’s concept of a “second transition” for South Africa and criticised aspects of the party leadership.

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Zuma is seen as vulnerable over personal scandals, such as fathering a child out of wedlock, domestic plagues ranging from corruption to unemployment to non-delivery of school textbooks, and foreign policy controversies over the government’s stand on the conflicts in Ivory Coast and Libya.

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Without a clear and popular rival, Zuma remains the favourite to lead the ANC into the next general election in 2014. He enjoys a powerful home base in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the biggest ANC voting bloc, andsignificant allies such as the South African Communist party.

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However, some of the provinces, certain sections of the trade union movement and the ANC youth league may feel that they have received a boost for their candidate: “Anyone but Zuma”.

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